When it came time for Niki Burns to decide on a senior project this quarter, she knew she wanted to do something about eating on a budget. What she didn’t anticipate was was having to feed herself for the entire month of February on $28.
“At first I didn’t think that was really possible, to only eat $1 of food each day but then once I started thinking about it more and more I realized there are ways to eat for free in San Luis Obispo,” Burns said. “Also I realized people are forced to have to live this way and if they can do it, then I hoped that I could.”
Burns, a Cal Poly journalism senior spent $28 on groceries at the beginning of the month and is documenting her experience for her senior project on a blog, located at www.eatonedollaraday.blogspot.com.
Burns hopes that by posting her happenings, others will see how it is possible to live on a small budget and want to challenge themselves.
The uniqueness of her own challenge and the “out of the box” idea is what excites her adviser, journalism professor John Soares. Soares said that as Burns documents the entire month of February, eating only food that she had bought at the beginning of the month with $28, or was free or that she traded or bartered from someone else, she is learning how to generate interest in an era when news is becoming more technologically based. Documenting her experience and her work with the Internet and social media such as Facebook is what makes her project relevant, Soares said.
“She’s doing a story, and it’s going to be newsworthy to a particular audience and that’s part of her senior project: to figure out who it’s going to be newsworthy to and putting it on the Web,” Soares said. “It’s going to give her an opportunity to figure out how many hits is she getting and kind of extrapolate who are those people that are actually going to the Web site.”
Creating her own blog is also giving Burns the opportunity to participate in a new realm of journalism.
“Blogging is a great venue just because it’s free,” Burns said. “It’s time efficient; it doesn’t take me very much time to type up everything each night and just let everyone know how each day is going, and how I eat. It’s just easy and it’s just a way to share your story with the community as a whole.”
Sharing her story and having everything online for people to see is what could land her a job against a competitor with just a résumé because she will be able to show her project and explain the problems or challenges she faced in the process, Soares said.
“The more that you can do, and in this instance, Niki’s project on doing this blog, synthesizing video skills, writing skills, new media skills, working with the web, working with traditional media outlets to gain popularity for a Web site and then all the problems that come along with that and how she solved all those problems within a compressed amount of time, well that just makes her look so good when she goes out there,” Soares said.
Initially, the idea of Burns doing the project to challenge herself wasn’t what worried her family and boyfriend. When Burns first approached her mom, Jennifer Burns, about the concept, Jennifer said she didn’t know whether or not to take her seriously. When she finally realized her daughter wasn’t joking around, Jennifer got concerned.
“I was really concerned about her nutrition, I didn’t like the whole idea. I was hoping she could think of something else to do,” Jennifer said. “I was just like, ‘Niki, you can’t live on a dollar a day,’ and she insisted that it could be done.”
Burns found out that convincing her mom she could do it was easier than the experience itself. By the second day, Burns admitted on her blog that she was “feeling less energetic” and by the fourth day was tired of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, one of the only food items from her bundle of groceries purchased at the beginning that could be mass produced.
“I just really want nice salad,” Burns said. “I know that sounds like a lame answer, but I’ve really been craving veggies and I really like salads.”
She also came to the realization of just how fortunate she was to be able to eat out when she wanted and to not have to worry about hunger. Burns said the project has made her want to help out others whose reality is her month-long project, something her mom wanted her to walk away with at the end of the month.
“I hope that what she does learn out of it is the value of food and how blessed we are to have an abundance of it, that we don’t have to think about every dollar we spend on food so carefully, because so many people do,” Jennifer Burns said.
Knowing that she would have to make a relatively small amount of food last her for three meals a day for 28 days, Burns set up a list of guidelines on food that was considered free or food that she could accept before starting her project. During the month, Burns babysat a younger cousin for salami, taken fruit from a friend’s tree, traded a potato for an avocado and eaten at IHOP and Denny’s during their free breakfast days.
“I’ll cook my friend a meal if they cook me a meal or something like that, so I’ve done that a couple of times, and I’ve found different events where I’ve been able to eat for free,” Burns said. “Like Denny’s’ Free Grand Slam, IHOP and I ate at Woodstock’s I think, twice last week for free, just by writing a review about them.”
She wants people to challenge themselves and see that free food is available.
“I want people that can’t afford to eat out to see that there are free ways to eat out. Like there’s a lot for coupons out there on Web sites local restaurants,” Burns said. “I just want people to see there are cheaper ways to eat, maybe not eating a $1 a day but do something that would challenge them for the year because I think it’s important to experience different aspects of life and to always be challenging ones self otherwise you could get bored and get stuck in the same routine every day.”